Too cute to spook
Christmas may be just around the corner, but Xaviant Games, developer and publisher of Don’t Die, Minerva! say it’s still spooky season.
Haunting PC players on December 5, Don’t Die, Minerva! is a polished little rogue-lite and is definitely more than meets the eye. With procedurally-generated dungeons filled with a wide variety of ghosts, ghouls, and other ghastly baddies to beat, Don’t Die, Minerva! is a difficult challenge for even the most seasoned of gamers — all wrapped up in an adorably creepy package.
Players take on the role of the titular character, Minerva, who, without warning, finds herself at the front gates of an exceedingly eerie castle. With mom and dad nowhere to be found, our pint-sized heroine does what any normal child who shops only at Hot Topic would do — walks right through the front doors and talks to the first specter she sees. Luckily, Mr. Butterworth, the resident headless butler, is a friendly ghost, who offers to help Minerva as long as she can get him the necessary essence, which ghosts and ghouls seem to be made of. And so, flashlight in hand and wellies on foot, Minerva enters the cavernous mansion to do battle with transparent baddies.
PC controls in Don’t Die, Minerva! are straightforward enough — WASD to move and the left mouse button to use the flashlight. Players new to the genre might feel a bit frustrated, especially since the rooms make Minerva traverse them in a diagonal-fashion more often than not, but the learning curve is appropriate that eases players into a good loop. There is a controller option, which I theorize might be easier to use in what amounts to a twin-stick shooter, but with enough practice, getting a hang of the controls is only a matter of time.
The art style in Don’t Die, Minerva! is so delightful — the overall feel is dark enough to give off an eerie feel without feeling truly scary, toeing that fine line of spooky and scary. If I’m being honest, I was surprised to hear the dungeons were procedurally-generated, as each room feels different from the last yet is cohesive with the next. One room might have black and white alternating tiles, while another a deep wood with a dark red rug, some small, others vast and full of dining tables and bookcases. It definitely felt like a long, winding mansion!
One thing that really surprised me was just how tough Don’t Die, Minerva! actually was — my immediate reaction to it was to think it was a morbidly cute version of Luigi’s Mansion, but it only took one dungeon run to realize how much harder it is than its Nintendo look-alike. I do feel that the somewhat awkward controls certainly add to the difficulty factor, but it’s more to do with just really good level and enemy design. Just when you think you’ve gotten strong enough, you’ll enter the next floor and find the difficulty factor really ramped up; instead of one or two ghosts slinging single fireballs occasionally at you, there’ll be six specters in the room with invisible shields spraying you with fireballs, meaning players will have to get creative if they want to get through.
Of course, every satisfying dungeon crawler has plenty of loot and upgrades to collect, and Don’t Die, Minerva! definitely delivers there. I think my favorite part of every level was to ensure that, after defeating demonic enemies, I’d collected all loot and opened every chest, hoping to gain accessories like new boots or necklaces. Players can trade in their hard-earned coins and gems for upgrades to assist in Minerva’s journey, such as a health boost upon entering elevators, and these aids can make the difference between life or death when exploring this haunted mansion.
Despite the sheer amount of spooky specters featured, Don’t Die, Minerva! is definitely not dead on arrival. A polished twin-stick/rogue lite chock full of personality and charm, fans of the genre will enjoy the challenge this deceivingly difficult title offers. Be sure to let Don’t Die, Minerva! possess your Steam library on December 5.